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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 54-56

A tribute to Prof. Ranjit Roy Chaudhury (1930-2015)

Medical Research Centre, Kasturba Health Society, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication16-Jun-2016

Correspondence Address:
Ashok D.B. Vaidya
Medical Research Centre, Kasturba Health Society, 17, Khandubhai Desai Road, Vile Parle (West), Mumbai - 400 0056, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2347-9906.184183

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How to cite this article:
Vaidya AD. A tribute to Prof. Ranjit Roy Chaudhury (1930-2015). J Obes Metab Res 2016;3:54-6

How to cite this URL:
Vaidya AD. A tribute to Prof. Ranjit Roy Chaudhury (1930-2015). J Obes Metab Res [serial online] 2016 [cited 2021 Sep 20];3:54-6. Available from: https://www.jomrjournal.org/text.asp?2016/3/1/54/184183

Ranjit Roy Chaudhury was born at Patna, Bihar, on April 11, 1930 and died on October 27, 2015 at Chennai, Tamil Nadu [Figure 1]. His parents were Indu and P.C. Roy Chaudhury - a highly cultured and educated couple. Young Ranjit had the advantage of going to the best educational institutions, besides a very stimulating milieu at home. His polite manners, gentle ways, and warm demeanor reflected his exceptional upbringing, which was common in many elite families of preindependent India.
Figure 1. Prof. Ranjit Roy Chaudhury (1930-2015)

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Ranjit was a brilliant student at the school and the pre-med college. He could secure admission to one of the most prestigious centers of learning called the Prince of Wales Medical College at Patna. The college was renamed as Patna Medical College after independence but had continued its British aura for a long time. Ranjit's command over the English language and refined manners and etiquette, so often admired by many from the West, had roots in his exposure to the England-travelled faculty at the medical college in addition to the discipline at home.

No wonder there was a pull for him from England, particularly from the University of Oxford. The Department of Pharmacology was headed by the Prof. Joshua Harold Burn, scientist and teacher, who attracted bright students from all over the world, including Ranjit, Dr. Ripudaman Singh-Grewal, and many others. The Nobel Laureate Sir John Vane has said about Prof. Burn, "If anyone can be said to have molded the subject of pharmacology around the world, it is he." So Ranjit belonged to the pharmacology Gharana (lineage) through Burn to Lord Henry Dale, W.H. Gaskell, F.G. Hopkins, Joseph Barcroft - a most distinguished pedigree! Ranjit did his D.Phil from Oxford that is equivalent to PhD. The academic staff at Oxford had names like Sir William Paton, Sir John Vane, Prof. Edith Bulbring, and Dr. Hugh Blaschko (I have fond memories of Blaschko at Yale). Ranjit, however, wished to return to India and not join the massive brain drain that often led to brilliant Indians staying abroad after training at the top universities.

He returned to India in 1958 and served as Assistant Professor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for 2 years. Though he enjoyed teaching at AIIMS, he was also attracted to the state-of-the-art drug discovery center being established at Goregaon, Mumbai, by CIBA Company. He and another D.Phil (Oxon) Dr. R.S. Grewal joined a group of elite scientists under the leadership of Prof. T.R. Govindachari. One of his colleagues and a leading scientist - Dr. Mohan Nair - wrote, "My own association with him started when we both joined the research team of CIBA (later CIBA-GEIGY and now Novartis) in Basle, Switzerland, in 1962. He and Manda returned to India earlier than the rest of us, since the company already saw in him abilities to match the requirements of setting up what was to be later the Country's best Research Centre for new Drug Discovery and Development. The husband-wife team was responsible for setting up the Biology, Toxicology, Pharmacokinetics, and pre-clinical Pharmacology Labs, in addition to setting up perhaps India's only quality assured Animal House facilities." He further adds, "To talk about him is to talk about 'one of a kind' persons endowed with tremendous capacity to carry people with him and sort out issues in a most positively diplomatic manner. And how many complex issues he handled in his illustrious career! To talk about his academic contributions as a Clinical Pharmacologist, as a Healthcare Policymaker, advisor to various National and International Projects, Member of the Indian Medical Council, etc., would be redundant since, in spite of his keeping a low profile, he was probably the most visible face in the Healthcare scenario in the country during the last one decade."

Ranjit came to CIBA with a vision to put India on the Drug Discovery map of the world! But Ranjit escaped early from this wonderful group to the call of Academic Pharmacology, his first love. He joined PGI at Chandigarh and built there an excellent Department of Pharmacology and also the first D.M. course in Clinical Pharmacology, where I had the good fortune to serve as invited faculty. He steadily rose to a higher position viz., Dean, PGI. He was also the Chairman of the Pharmacology and Toxicology panel of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

After his retirement from PGI, he joined the World Health Organization (WHO), with his base at Geneva. He worked with the WHO till 1991 in various capacities and at regional offices. His vast global network of friends expanded significantly during this period. One of his friends - Prof. Gerald Bodeker wrote to Manda from Oxford, "My colleagues at Oxford join with me in sending our heartfelt condolences to Dr. Manda and family and to Ranjit's wide network of colleagues, collaborators, mentees, and friends on the passing of this great soul… As Chair of the India-Oxford scholarship committee, Ranjit was also a pioneer and leader in ensuring that talented young Indian scholars received the opportunity to come to Oxford to enhance their careers in ways of importance to India's future." Prof. Terence Ryan wrote of Ranjit, "Oxford was always pleased to see him back and several of us continued to benefit from his wisdom throughout his long life."

Prof. Roy Chaudhury steadily grew in stature as a senior medical statesman of the nation with his work at the WHO, ICMR, CSIR, DBT, CCRAS, PGI, National Institute of Immunology, Medical Council, Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, the International Clinical Epidemiological Network, Apollo Hospitals, Indraprastha Medical Corporation, India International Centre, etc., He rose to the highest position, in India, when he was appointed as the Advisor to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, in 2014. Prof. Ranjit Roy Chaudhury Expert Committee to Formulate Policy and Guidelines for Approval of New Drugs, Clinical Trials and Banning of Drugs, recommended significant changes in the system. These were accepted by the Ministry.

Unlike several leaders of modern medicine, Ranjit evinced a serious interest in the Traditional Systems of Medicine. He was a founding member of the Oxford-based Global Initiative for Traditional Systems of health. Dr. S.S. Handa, a leader in phytopharmaceutical research, wrote, "Prof. Roy Chaudhury, one of the tallest pillars of Pharmacology in India, was an excellent human being, always helpful on all aspects, had a special interest in medicinal plants and promoter of Traditional herbal medicines." Dr. C.K. Katiyar, a pioneer in Pharmaceutical Ayurveda, wrote, "He played major role in policy making not only for CDSCO related issues but also for AYUSH. This shows the versatility of approach he always imbibed besides understanding of the issues at hand. I always found him very humble and receptive. I have never seen him imposing his views during the meetings. On the contrary, he always followed consensus approach." He was confident that several hits, leads, and candidates from medicinal plants hold a vast potential for new drug discovery.

The fraternity of the Indian pharmacologists was looking forward to felicitate Ranjit at the International Pharmacology Conference at Rajkot in December 2015. But due to his sudden demise, we sadly dedicated the conference to his memory. Prof. Y.K. Gupta, a leader of Pharmacology, was with Ranjit at Chennai. He wrote, "At about 10.30 in the night, he told his wife and attending doctor that he would like to talk to me even when on the bed with oxygen tube. His wife and doctor had a talk with me (while he was prompting) that he wanted me to deliver his talks next day morning if his doctors do not permit him. He sent me his PPT, which he had prepared with passion. While we were getting his body embalmed, his eyes were telling me that good work he carried in life must go on, and now the responsibility is of you all. What a soul he was a fatherly figure, always with an encouraging smile. I find a similarity in him and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Both died while educating the nation. This was spontaneously my reaction in his condolences at Chennai."

When Dr. B. Dinesh Kumar, the President of the Indian Pharmacology Society, broke the sad news, of Ranjit's demise I was in tears. My association with him went back to several decades. Ranjit's and my interests had much in common, despite some opposite traits.(I envied his social skills!) He and I loved Clinical Pharmacology. We both were sad that the discipline did not prosper in India, notwithstanding the efforts by Prof. U.K. Sheth and by him. But we did not give up. He and I saw future for Clinical Pharmacology in Prof. Nilima Kshirsagar, Dr. Arun Bhatt, Prof. Urmila Thatte, Dr. Renuka Munshi, and Dr. Nithya Gogtay. Our interest in medicinal plants led to many discussions and exchanges on how to go about the challenges of Ayurvedic research. But when he as the Chairman of the experts' group recommended the award of the ICMR Advanced Centre of Reverse Pharmacology to our Kasturba Health Society [Figure 2] and Prof. N.K. Ganguly and Dr. Vasantha Muthuswamy executed the award, a path for new drug discovery from Ayurveda opened up.
Figure 2. Late Prof. R. R. Chaudhary with Dr. Ashok Vaidya at the time of site visit for Reverse Pharmocolgy Centre (ICMR)

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Ranjit published and wrote extensively on pharmacology, medical education, and health care (circa 300 articles, many chapters, and books). He was a popular speaker and was invited nationally and internationally for orations, keynote addresses, and guest lectures, besides Padma Shri, he received innumerable awards, recognition, and honors. He was a Rhodes Scholar, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar awardee, Dr. B.C. Roy awardee, Prof. P.K. Devi Orator, Doctor of Science - Chulalongkorn University, Fellow of the National Academy of Medical sciences Lifetime Achievement FICCI awardee, etc.

Ranjit, thank God, was human! He had social skills which would have enticed even Dale Carnegie to be his apprentice. He was suave, soft spoken, unruffled even under much provocation and always amicable with a smile. We used to enjoy several stories about Ranjit which Mohan (Dr. M.D. Nair), would narrate so vividly, adding his own mirchi-masala on the way. Some stories relate to how he would just invite a large group of friends or visitors to home for dinner and inform Manda, at the last hour. Manda may be fuming at the other end of the phone line but on this side, Ranjit was all honey and sugar. But all of us who know Manda know what a great lady of a rich culture she is. She has always been gracious and ever supportive of Ranjit's professional passion. She as a daughter of another doyen of Indian Pharmacology - Prof. BB Dixit-knew what it takes to do justice to research, education, and policy-making work. She has played a major role in all the achievements which Ranjit had in life. Academic life has been always in her blood, like her sister, a great educationist.

Bodekar shares a rare story about Ranjit and Manda, "Less known was Ranjit's work as head of the WHO office in Burma at the time that Aung San Suu Kyi was visiting her mother and then was placed under house arrest. Ranjit and Manda extended the hand of friendship to the young Oxford couple, Daw Suu and her husband, Prof. Michael Arris, in the early days of their long struggle for democracy for Burma." Now as Aung Suu Kyi has been vindicated by the victory of her party in the elections in Myanmar, this tale gains much relevance.

We end with Bodeker's words, "On a personal level, Ranjit was always a fatherly guiding presence and, I feel sure, will, from his transcended state, remain so to all of us whom he saw as sharing his great mission to improve the health of India and, through the models pioneered in India, for the world."


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]


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